Friday, September 10, 2010

The Most Conservative and Republican Of All Faiths Has Deep Progressive Roots

As a progressive-independent who, though lapsed most of my adult life, was born and raised in that faith, I find it ironic that polls of all faiths in the U.S. reveal that Mormons self-identify as the both the most conservative (59%)) and the most Republican (49%.)

To me that’s ironic, in part, because up until the late 19th century, members of the then-60 year old denomination were overwhelmingly Democrats, in part, because Republicans at the time opposed statehood for parts of the West.gallup

In fact, at one point back then, a Church official, John Henry Smith, was dispatched to visit congregations and explain it was okay to be a Republican and specific families were even assigned to join that party to create balance.

Fast forward a little more than a hundred years later and a Church leader was asked to give news interviews explaining that it is possible to be a good Mormon and a Democrat.

Up through the 1960s, Democratic candidates fared well among Mormons and several figures in national politics today are both Mormon and Democrats, in fact liberal Democrats. While the Church itself is generally politically neutral, beginning in the 1970s, a majority of members of that faith took a hard turn to the far right.

Today only 8% of active Mormons currently self-identify as liberal but that belies the deep progressive roots of that very Christian denomination. For instance, the Church pioneered a welfare system for the poor that served in part as a model for the one developed by the Federal government in the 1930’s.

Another example is that Utah where this Church is headquartered was the second state in the U.S. to grant women the right to vote, following adjacent Wyoming.

In the mid-1850s, the Church openly experimented with voluntary, New Testament inspired, communalistic or egalitarian living designed to increase group self-sufficiency but also to aspire to eliminate poverty and reach income equality.

The hard turn to the right over the past four decades and away from those progressive roots may be taking a toll though. Lapsed or inactive Mormons (29%) are more like me, considerably less conservative and significantly more likely to be moderate and two and a half times more likely to be liberal.

Church policy generally prohibits promoting candidates in congregations or church buildings but it took a strong position this week opposing an on-again, off-again threat by the pastor of a small church in Florida pastor to conduct a burning of the Quran.

It also played a role in the recent and narrow 5 percentage point passage of a California proposition prohibiting Gay marriage.

Mormon is a nickname often used to identify members of this restorationist (branch of Protestantism) faith initially called The Church of Christ and later formally named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints (LDS.)

With 14 million members worldwide and one of the fastest growing of all Christian denominations, its roots go back to the Second Great Awakening of the 1830’s, a very un-conservative period that fueled many evangelic or conversion-oriented faiths, that while different from fundamentalist, are typically very socially conservative.

2 comments:

The Guthries said...

Just to clarify, the church does not "endorse, promote, or oppose political parties, candidates, or platforms." It does "reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the church."http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/public-issues/political-neutrality

Reyn said...

Good source and I've added that link. Thanks.